Dear Councilmember Larry Gossett,
4Culture agrees with you that “Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and some low income folks in rural, unincorporated King County have simply not been served well enough,” but we believe this statement applies to the entire arts and culture sector. Issues of inequity, inclusion, accessibility, and diversity in the arts and culture field are complex, involve many institutions, and deserve serious changes in practice, not finger pointing. We acknowledge there are systemic and institutional barriers for people of color and disadvantaged groups that keep them from increased access to arts, heritage, and culture experiences. We further acknowledge that inequitable practices on the part of funding organizations (public, private, and corporate) have historically reinforced these inequities. This is not solely a 4Culture problem, and we cannot solve the problem alone, but we have a major part to play.
Does 4Culture want the number of applicants from Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, low income, and rural communities to be higher? Absolutely! Does 4Culture want the number of organizations and individuals, from these communities, to receive an increased amount of funding? Absolutely! In fact, a guiding principle of 4Culture and its predecessor agency, the King County Office of Cultural Resources, for more than 50 years has been “all of the arts for ALL of the people in all of King County.” For this reason, 4Culture has worked with a singular focus and diligence to improve its outreach to lower income communities and communities of color by launching a series of initiatives and grant programs to address these inequities.
These efforts, over the past decade, have resulted in increased numbers of applicants from and increased levels of funding going to individuals and organizations serving Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, low-income, and rural communities. This is 4Culture’s way forward to a solution, this is progress.
4Culture cannot fix these systemic problems overnight and we cannot fix them alone, but we believe focusing work of the agency through an equity lenses, with a commitment to anti-racist practices recognizes and addresses our responsibilities. Councilmember Gossett, 4Culture is not perfect, but we acknowledge the inequities that exist within the arts and culture field, and we are working tirelessly to be a real and meaningful part of the solution.
Your conclusion that 4Culture is not equitable and does not serve communities of color is based largely on the outcome of two programs that were introduced in the past two years: Building for Culture and Access for All. King County—not 4Culture–authorized the creation of both programs. 4Culture’s role in both was to implement policies adopted by and subject to King County oversight.
4Culture had no role in drafting the Cultural Access Washington legislation that passed in Olympia in 2015, designating that 70% of the revenues in Access for All support the 34 largest cultural institutions. This obviously bothers you, but you place the blame for that at the wrong source. In your letter to constituents, Councilmember Gossett, you said, “The legislation mandates that 4Culture must give beaucoup funds to these large facilities for seven (7) straight years. Tell me that no ‘lobbyist for culture’ effectively and politically assisted in the development of guidelines and eligibility criteria…” No lobbyists working on Access for All were paid by, consulted with, or had any relationship to 4Culture. And 4Culture staff worked diligently with the King County Executive and Council to improve Access for All and try to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds to areas outside Seattle and to organizations representing Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and low income rural residents. 4Culture is not CAWA.
Building for Culture was a grant program only available for capital projects that would be under construction and able to use funds within 3 years. It was authorized by King County. Its funding recommendations were approved unanimously by the King County Council.
4Culture managed a competitive application and selection process to award $20 million of the $28 million in total awards. The additional $8 million was allocated entirely by the King County Council through their own process. You have more insight into how that $8 million was allocated than we do.
No public funder, including national, state or 4Culture, is able to fully support a capital project. Any organization contemplating any size-building project has to seek money from a variety of sources, and it is indeed hard for small arts and heritage organizations to meet all the requirements necessary for public investment and to find resources. You seem surprised that we would be open about how much 4Culture would be willing to support as a percentage of project costs. What the guidelines actually stated was an intent to help small projects: if a project were over $10 million in size, 4Culture would award only up to 5% of project costs, with a $2 million cap. If a project was between $1 and $10 million in size, the applicant could receive 10% of project costs, and if a project cost under a million dollars, Building for Culture would both review those requests first for priority and would support up to 25% of the total project cost.
4Culture is not afraid of oversight or accountability and is ably served by a well-constituted board who takes their responsibilities for its governance very seriously. The board is proud of the efforts that 4Culture has made to increase inclusion.
Facts matter. We hope that clarifying these issues helps resolve unfortunate conclusions based on information that is not accurate, and sets the record straight.
Executive Director Jim Kelly and Board President Stephen Elliott